Banh Mi Boys

•March 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Several years ago a small and narrow sandwich shop opened up at Queen and Spadina.  At first I thought, “how can this compete with the dirt cheap bahn mi sandwiches all along Spadina?”  Then I ate the food and have never second guessed them since.  I still remember my first experience, walking down the street with one of the tacos in hand.  I had to stop and sit down on the sidewalk because my knees grew weak as the flavors burst in my mouth.  HOLY FOODGASMIC BATMAN!  This is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten!  They’ve since opened a location and Yonge and Gerrard and I’ve been a regular ever since. When friends visit from out of town, this is one of the places I always send them to.

Below is the five spice pork belly steam bao.

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The bun is soft and chewy.  Nice texture very reminiscent of the chinese buns you get at dim sum but bigger.  The veggies are crisp and packed with pickled flavour.  The meat.. tender, fatty and packs a lot of great flavour from the five spice seasoning.  Below is the Kalbi beef taco.

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This was the original taco that brought me to my knees.  The tortilla holds together well considering it’s packed with stuff.  As you eat it, the sauces shoot down your hand so remember to grab napkins….or you can do what I do and just lick it all up. The beef is tender and full of Korean kalbi marinade flavor.  Again the veggies are crunchy and full of pickled goodness.  The heat is ever so perfect.  The flavorful kind of heat and not simply a burning heat.  Below is the fried chicken steamed bao.

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I love fried chicken so this concoction just makes me happy.  Crisp, juicy fried chicken with all the goodies included in the other options.  The true winner and must try though, partially for uniqueness but mainly for flavor, are the Kimchi fries.

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Kimchi, mayo, green onions, pulled pork, perfectly crisped fries….it sounds weird but it is truly a culinary work of art.

Below is the beef cheek bao.  The beef is tender and absorbs a lot of the sauce.

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The bahn mi itself is on a lightly toasted french bun, crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside.  Below is the chicken.  Small morsels of marinated chicken packed with flavor.

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Below is the squid taco.  The squid is a little rubbery and it doesn’t travel too well but fresh off the fryer, it’s as good as any fried calamari.

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Below is the Kalbi beef bahn mi.  Like the taco incarnation of the Kalbi beef, it carries the same punch-you-in-the-face flavor.

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This place is a real gem and probably one the best value meals in the whole city.  How to mix a meal of the baos, tacos and sandwiches is a common debate amongst my friends and co-workers.  To date, we have never come across a bad combination, it’s all just varying degrees of awesome.

http://www.banhmiboys.com

The Ossington Pho-Down!

•March 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In search of Toronto’s best Pho, I’ve often come across the same debate, Golden Turtle versus Pho Tien Thanh. Now over the years I’ve eaten my way through many places all over town including Chinatown (Pho Hung, Pho Pasteur, etc.) and even have travelled uptown to Markham and North York in search of the best noodle soup. People from uptown argue that the asian food up North doesn’t even compare to what you can get further south towards the lake and into downtown. Over the past year, I’ve eaten at a lot of these uptown asian places and will concede that when it comes to most asian food, they have us downtowners beat. But not when it comes to Pho! I’m not sure if it’s the local competition that drove these two places to such dominance, but on the little strip of Ossington between Queen and Dundas, two little shops serve the best bowls of Pho I’ve had in my life.

I first heard about Golden Turtle several years ago. A colleague of mine told me he thought they had the best Pho in the city. My following Google search was my first glimpse into this heated debate. I found a flurry of blogs, reviews, and message boards with random strangers strongly expressing their opinion of one over the other. Today I decided it was time to try both, back to back, and make a decision for myself. I first went to Golden Turtle and ordered the rare beef pho and an order of spring rolls. I don’t know why, but Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto crush it at deep frying spring rolls.

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The spring rolls came out piping hot. I find with anything deep fried, freshness is key but one must be wary of burning one’s tongue. These spring rolls were on the thicker side, a little less than an inch in diameter. The filling was juicy, meaty and delicious. Excellent crunch but wasn’t too greasy. Now for the main event, the pho.

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The broth had a lot of flavor. A lot of the places in the city have really bland broth which make you want to add a lot of hoisin and sriracha. This is not the case here. It stands on its own. I like a little heat and sweetness so I added a little after a few bites of the pure stuff. The broth is a little oily but worth it for the flavor pickup.The meat was nice and lean. I find most places use really cheap beef and can be gristly. No gristle here, just chewy tender beef. It came out nice and rare but quickly cooked through in the hot broth. The noodles, perfectly cooked. Nice and chewy and they absorbed a lot of the broth flavor.

A short walk south you will find Pho Tien Thanh. Every time I walk into this place, no matter what time of day, it’s packed. The place is warm (literally) and smells of delicious pho. It definitely feels like more of a dive compared to Golden Turtle which is cleaner with nicer decor. But I don’t really care about decor, I care about taste. First up, the spring rolls.

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These are skinnier than the Golden Turtle counterpart, about half an inch in diameter, however they are longer. On a per bite basis, you get less filling but more crunch. I feel like the filling was a little more flavorful and juicy. The spring roll itself was also greasier. Both are delicious. I guess the choice will depend on whether you like more filling or more crunch and what your greasiness tolerance is like. Now the pho.

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The broth is less oily and just a flavorful. It almost tastes, cleaner. The beef also came out nice and rare. It was chewy and delicious but I thought the quality of the beef was a little lower than Golden Turtle. Some gristle and fattier chunks but still better than anywhere else in the city. The noodles were also perfectly cooked to a lovely chewy texture. I thought the noodles didn’t absorb the broth as much. To get around this, you just eat it in a spoon with the broth.

Both bowls are delicious in their own right. When you are comparing the best of the best, it’s splitting hairs and really is just a matter of preference or maybe even your mood that day. It’s like comparing the top burgers or top steaks or the best BBQ. It’s a matter of personal taste and preference. Somedays, I’ll want cleaner broth and crunchy spring rolls, in which case I’ll find myself at Pho Tien Thanh. Other days, I may want leaner beef and nice porky spring roll filing, in which case I’ll find myself at Golden Turtle. I think the patrons can all agree on one thing though, if you love pho, Ossington is the place to be.

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http://www.thegoldenturtle.ca/

http://www.phenu.com/PhoTienThanh

 

Hopgood’s Foodliner

•February 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A while back now I took a couple friends out for their birthdays (instead of traditional gifts I usually take my friends out for a nice dinner… it’s more or less an excuse for me to go out and splurge on a meal). And on this occasion, splurge we did.  We made our way out to Hopgood’s Foodliner in Roncy and prepared for a feast.  We ordered a round of cocktails and then got into the food.  To start was had the Oysters, PEI and Nova Scotia varieties.

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Fresh, briny, meaty and delicious.  I love a good oyster.  Next we had the Potted shrimp under butter on fancy bread.

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It’s a pretty thick and hard layer of butter to get through but once through, the shrimp with the butter on the toast, so good! Butter and shellfish is always a good combination.  Next was the Smoked mackerel on oatcakes topped with a cream cheese texture but ranch like tasting spread.

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The oatcake was like a better tasting triscuit.  Not as solid but still strong enough to hold together for multiple bites.  The spread and the mackerel blended really well and the dill added a nice refreshing flavor to the smoky mackerel. Next was the Albacore tuna with Vicki’s heirloom tomatoes.

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I love fresh tuna and mixed with the sweet tomatoes, this was just awesome.  Next was the Hot crab dip and triscuits.

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This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.  I think I’m more partial to crab dip in general but this is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had in my life. I had a nice texture, crunchy and creamy and its was loaded with crab meat.  Next were the Salmon croquettes and cream cheese.

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I normally find salmon on the heavier side (which I don’t have a problem with) but maybe through the magic of deep frying (and yes, it is a magical thing) it became less heavy.  I’m a big fan of the crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside type of texture so this was really satisfying for me.  Next were the Lobster nuggets, lightly deep fried with a chilli mayo like sauce.

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This was the hit of the night. In fact after the first bite we tried to flag down the waitress to order another one but they sold out. I loved everything about this.  The crunchy texture, the buttery lobster meat, the creaminess of the mayo was just a little kick.  This may actually be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  Holy smokes I’m salivating now just writing about this. It was a special they had for the evening but if it ever makes the regular menu I’ll be back regularly just for this.  Next was the Charred octopus, pork sausage, potatoes and Romesco sauce.

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I’m normally weary of ordering octopus since it usually comes out rubbery.  This was anything but.  Nice charred flavor with a nice warm, soft bite into the octopus meat. The potatoes were also charred and had a nice carmlization on it. It’s like breakfast potatoes that get burnt on the griddle.  The slightly burnt ones are the best. The Romesco sauce, a perfect compliment to everything above.  Next were the Digby scallops, roasted beets and walnuts.

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I really like scallops so this was already a win for me.  Scallops were cooked perfectly and the blend of bold flavors was just amazing.  We were told a must have were the Halifax donairs.

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Now I’ve been to pizza corner in Halifax and this is like a Halifax donair on steroids. Just better quality meat and veggies but still that traditional and totally unhealthy sweet garlic sauce.  This was really good but a part of me feels like dirty street food should be just that, dirty street food.  This fancied up version, although incredibly tasty and delicious leaves me a little unsettled as a man who loves to eat. I would eat it again though since Halifax donairs are rare in this city.  To finish we had the Chocolate bar.

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Toffee, crispy dark chocolate wrapped up nicely with a bow.  This was fantastic. Now I’m normally not a dessert/sweets guy but even I had to go back for a couple more bites. This may be one of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever had. I loved the crunchy toffee and the richness of the chocolate. This was just quality all around.

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Our experience at Hopgood’s foodliner was fantastic. Every dish (and we had a lot of them between the 3 of us, that’s right there were three of us eating all this food) was delicious. It was hard coming out and saying which was the best since they were all so good. It did a number on my pocketbook especially since we had more than a few of the fancy cocktails but it was worth it for a special occasion.

http://hopgoodsfoodliner.com

Beast for Brunch – Indulgent and Gluttonous

•August 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A few friends and I decided to grab brunch at Beast, a small converted home with delicious meat-centric dishes.

We started with a round of Caesars ($5 per drink, not bad) and a couple of Rachelle’s donuts.  We had their signature maple bacon donut (below on the right) and the s’more donut (below on the left).

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The maple bacon donut was excellent.  It had the savouriness of the bacon balanced nicely but the sweetness of the maple.  The donut dough was good.  Not as good as a Krispy Kreme fresh out of the fryer but better than a Tim Horton’s donut.

Below is the huervos rancheros with corn tortillas, chorizo, bean salad, avocado puree, tomato -red chile sauce, sheep’s milk feta, two sunny side up eggs and house potatoes.

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I didn’t try this but my friend seemed to enjoy it and she has a pretty high standard for breakfast food.  I tried some of the tomato-red chile sauce.  Pretty flavourful and I would imagine with the cheese, chorizo and eggs it pops.

Below is the corned beef tongue scramble with semi-cured tomatoes, gruyere, garlic scape pesto with a buttermilk biscuit and potatoes.

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The tomatoes add an interesting tartness to the bouncy eggs and savoury beef chunks.  Overall, it was a pretty standard scramble.  The biscuit was nice and buttery and adding the hot sauces and house made ketchup (all three of which were awesome) added a needed kick.

Below is the crispy pork hocks tossed in keycap manis and served with kimchi, two eggs, toast and house potatoes.

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Now this was a tasty dish.  As a single bite, it was probably the tastiest thing we ate and probably one of the tastiest things I’ve biten into in a while.  The hocks are crispy, savoury, and full of fatty flavor.  The texture is complex with a nice crunch on the outside and buttery, meaty inside.  The sauce underneath was sweet, balancing the saltiness of the hock.  The kimchi adds a nice spiciness and the eggs round out the rest of the dish.

Below is the beastwich, a buttermilk biscuit barely able to hold the fried chicken thigh, pimento cheese, a fried egg smothered in pork sausage gravy and served with house potatoes.

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This dish was the highlight of the meal for us.  The chicken was crisp, well seaonsoned  and juicy on the inside.  A perfect piece of fried chicken.  The pork gravy is rich and packed with flavor (I would drink this stuff if it wouldn’t kill me).  Mixed all together with the buttery biscuit and fried egg, each bite was an overindulgent heart-attack-in-a-bite.  Sooo tasty.  Throw on some of the vinegary hot sauce, perfecto!

The meal was served with a variety of condiments, two types of hot sauce and a house made ketchup.

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The bottle on the left is a smoky hot sauce.  It went really well with the eggs and potatoes.  The middle hot sauce was more on the vinegary side and went really well with the fried chicken.  The ketchup, house made, is a little on the sweeter side with a hint of smoke.

Now breakfast and brunch food usually isn’t the healthiest of meals but Beast takes gluttony to a whole new level…and I like it.

http://thebeastrestaurant.com

Brava Bistro (Calgary)

•August 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I was recently on a trip home visiting my family and took them out for dinner.  The restaurant scene has evolved to a whole new level in Calgary so when I Google, “best restaurants in Calgary”….a ton of amazing places show up.  One of the places that came up was Brava Bistro.  The menu looked good.  So why not dive in?

To start, we tried three appetizers.  The first was the Lobster Gnocchi, a potato and egg gnocchi with peas, carrots, and a shellfish butter sauce.

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The gnocchi was light and pillowy.  It had a nice texture: chewy and soft.  The gnocchi was nicely contrasted by the firm but well cooked veggies and the sauce was nice, light and tasty.  Light and tasty don’t always go together but as an app, this really worked.  Next we tried the mussels with leeks that was topped with a white wine and cream sauce, pomme frites and, aioli.
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I think was the unanimous favourite amongst the apps.  The sauce was rich but relatively light.  How can you pack so much flavour with such a light sauce?  The mussels were fresh and meaty.  The fries were perfectly crisped and the aioli was like a super-rich-garlic-mayo.  The contrast between the super rich aioli and crisp fries was a great contrast to the soft mussels and velvety sauce.  Next were the Seared Scallops served with spinach, crispy leeks, warm truffle vichyssoise, and chives.
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The scallops were a little on small side but they simply seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked nicely.  Nothing to rave about but well executed.  The spinach and truffle were good.  Again, nothing to rave about but well executed.
The first main was the Spicy Bacon Rigatoni the had bacon, garlic, jalapeño, tomato, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and parsley.
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The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente.  The sauce had a nice heat from the spice and the tomatoes weren’t overly tart or saucy.  As far as pastas go, some would say it was on the dry side due to the lack of sauce but it was so rich with flavour from the bacon and jalapeño, it didn’t need it.  The parsley added a nice freshness but it kind of got lost in the richness of the other ingredients.
Next we tried the Crispy Cracklin Chicken.  The chicken was pan roasted with scallion mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and white wine chicken jus.
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The chicken was juicy and perfectly cooked.  The skin was crispy and spiced to perfection.  The mash was nice but what really grabbed my attention was the jus.  Mixed with the chicken…awesome!  The jus had a nice very spice blend to it.  It had some five spice, my mother said some nutmeg, but at the end of the day, whatever it was, it was unique and great.  The chicken was crispy on the outside and moist in the white meat.  The mash soaked up the very tasty sauce.  All taken together, one of the better chickens I’ve had at a fancy bistro.
Next we tried the BBQ pork shoulder.  It was Guinness-braised, covered with BBQ sauce and topped over perogies and savoy cabbage.
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The outside was rich and nicely spiced.  Wow!  Welcome to flavour country.  The perogies were crisp on the outside and nicely potato-ey on the inside.  It all mixed really well together.  Execution, once again, very well done.
The last main we had was the Spring Creek Ranch Beef Short Rib served with roasted garlic cheese curd mash potatoes, spinach topped with a cabernet jus.
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The short rib was super tender and the vegetables were cooked a perfect al dente.  The gravy was nice.  The meat was fatty and full of beefy goodness.  The greens added a nice balance but really, no amount of greens could overpower the beef…sweet sweet beef.
We could barely fit in dessert but we tried the Salted Caramel Panna Cotta with apple crumble and fresh apples.
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What a great combination.  Salty, sweet, crunchy buttery crumble, smooth soft panna cotta and fresh apples.  Other than saying it all melded perfectly together I think the words speak for themselves.
So the website I read ranked this restaurant in the top 10 in Calgary.  Now I know there are a lot of new places in town but from the places I’ve eaten in town over the past several decades, I would have to agree.  This place is place is pretty damn good.

Harlem… good for any meal of the day

•July 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m a huge fan of southern food.  Bold flavours, spicy, meaty and deep fried. What’s not to love?  There seems to be a growing BBQ trend in this city but there is a tried and true place downtown that has been serving up southern favourites for years, Harlem.  And it’s good for all meals of the day.

Brunch.  This is the Harlem Benny.  Poached eggs, garlic collards, sausage patty, a top grit cakes with spicy hollandaise with a side spinach salad with a light vinaigrette.  There are also some random side vegetables.

Lunch.  Corn bread.  Fresh and delicious.

The Harlem sammy.  A grilled three layer sammy of black forest ham, jerked chicken salad, avocado, mango mustard and two types of cheese on challah bread.  The jerk spices give it a lively kick and the cheese and sauces balance the kick with nice smooth flavour.  It’s a meaty sandwich was fantastic bread.  Winning!

Roasted Jerk Chicken sammy.  Served with fried plantains, monterey jack cheese, scotch-bonet mayo served on toasted coco bread.  I have to admit, I was sweating a little while eating this sandwich.  The bread is interesting.  It’s light and tasty and doesn’t take anything away from the main show, the jerk chicken.

Dinner.  This must be one of the best values in the city.  Try the prix fix.  You basically get to try everything on the menu.

Spinach, Mandarin and goat cheese salad with toasted almonds topped with a balsamic mango vinaigrette.  Very healthy and refreshing.  The goat cheese gives a creamy taste contrasting the oranges and almonds.  There’s a lot going on and I love it.

Harlem Crisps served with avocado ginger hummus and a spiced walnut pate.  The crisps are nice.  A very nice way of delivering the spread to the mouth.

Catfish lafayette.  Deep fried morsels doused in a sweet chili hot sauce.  These are very addictive.  Sweet, spicy and savoury.  The fish is light and fluffy once you get through the lovely, crisp, deep fried layers.

Jerk chicken quesadillas with spicy coconut honey and greens.  Like all the other jerk items on the menu, this is delightfully spicy and the cheesiness just adds more goodness.

Jambalaya…enough said.

Mac-n-cheese.  Pretty standard mac and cheese.  Compared to others in the city (Weezie’s and Prohibition) it’s meh.  But those other ones are pretty amazing so the bar is set pretty high.

Southern fried chicken.  They put corn flakes in the batter.  It adds a very prominent *CRUNCH* and a nice sweetness to the already juicy and succulent chicken.

Blackend catfish served with shrimp and crab étouffée.  Rich sauce with light and incredibly tasty fish.  This is one of my only life experiences with blackened anything.  It makes me wonder, why don’t we blackened spices on more things?

Bold flavours, sweat inducing spice, rich and flavourful….everything!  Oh man, why don’t I go here more often?

http://www.harlemrestaurant.com/

Porchetta and Co.

•June 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Several years ago there was a rumour running around the city.  There is a sandwich made from pork, wrapped in pork, wrapped in pork… I think I fainted as soon as I heard it.  Then I sought to eat this sandwich.

The porchetta sandwich at Porchetta and Co is a marinated pork shoulder in a medley of spices including rosemary, sage, garlic oil and lemon zest.  The shoulder is wrapped in prosciutto and then wrapped in cured pork belly.  The creation is roasted at 400 F for half an hour to give a nice crust and it is slow cooked for several hours.  The meat is cut and put on a Caldense Bakery sourdough bun.

You can get the plain sandwich or have it with truffle sauce, parmesan, grainy mustard and hot sauce.  Truffle sauce you say?  That’s the Jeopardy answer to “This makes all food awesome.”

Above is the open sandwich.  Below is the completed sandwich.

The sandwich is small but packed with flavour.  The meat is crispy, salty and oh so porky.  The mustard, truffles and hot sauce add unbelievable depth of flavour and the bun….I’ve only had a better sandwich bun at the Black Camel.  This sandwich is A+.

http://porchettaco.com/